Two Lake Tahoe credit cards is one too many, tourism officials say |

Two Lake Tahoe credit cards is one too many, tourism officials say

This basin’s not big enough for two Lake Tahoe credit cards, say tourism officials.

Don’t expect a showdown at high noon, but a low-key battle of sorts is being waged between proponents of two different proposals to create Lake Tahoe-themed credit cards. Both offer user incentives linked to local businesses and a portion of the profits for environmental projects.

The South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce is negotiating with Destination Marketing, Inc. and First USA Bank to feature the lake on one of the bank’s many themed cards. The chamber sees it as a way to raise funds for its own operations plus environmental projects while stimulating tourism interest in Lake Tahoe.

The second credit card is proposed by Global Transaction Company with Wells Fargo Bank. That program would be administered through the Lake Tahoe Transaction Company, a partnership of all the visitors bureaus and chambers around the lake.

The Global credit card originated from a proposal several years ago to create a Lake Tahoe debit card with an embedded micro-chip, a so-called smart card. The cards are popular in Europe but American enthusiasm has been lacking. All but three smart card companies have folded, according to Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Vice President Mike Riley, of Bayside Financial.

The evolved credit card would also have the potential to become a smart card, according to its local champion, Steve Teshara, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, the Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority and co-chair of the Lake Tahoe Transportation & Water Quality Coalition, which brought the original smart-card proposal. Teshara sees the basinwide card as a way to raise funds for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Environmental Improvement Program – an alternative to proposed taxes now under scrutiny.

Currently, the South Lake Tahoe Chamber has the credit card advantage.

Teshara has asked that chamber’s board to consider both proposals. The credit cards were discussed at a chamber committee meeting last week.

“We’re still in contract negotiations (with DMI and First USA),” said Chamber President Gail Taylor. “We’ve not seen a formal proposal (from Global) at this point. We have an outline, not a proposal.”

The First USA card proposal offers a five-year partnership with the chamber and a percentage of royalties on all purchases. The company would market the card similar to its other credit cards, especially via direct mail.

Teshara considers the emphasis on direct mail a drawbacks of that proposal.

“People are already inundated with mail,” he said. “Last year was a record year for mailing solicitations. They have a 1 percent response rate. That declines as the mailings go up.”

Teshara considers the Global marketing proposal more comprehensive, although details are sketchy.

Proponents of the Global proposal also consider its basinwide pool of data bases better able to support a direct marketing program.

Both cards offer incentives to customers via discounts at participating merchants and rewards for use. The First USA proposal does not include membership fees; the Global proposal has not excluded them.

Both cards promise money back into the community. The South Lake Tahoe Chamber has said other organizations would eventually be included in the Global program.

“What we’re looking at will benefit the community – as opposed to solely being a benefit to the chamber – with the marketing opportunities this offers,” Taylor said.

“I don’t think there’s room for two (credit cards),” Teshara said. “From my perspective, if South Lake Tahoe Chamber elects to go with First USA, (Global) will back off. There’s only room for one.”

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